Motivational speakers try to ramp up the different incentives people have for doing things. They pump energy into our motives and so increase the likelihood of our taking some action. A football coach who excites his players about the great traditions of their home city is an example. So is the civil rights leader who paints a chilling picture of the evils her listeners should try to overcome.
If there ever was a motivational speaker, it is our own St. Paul. Writing to the people of Corinth, he touches on what is perhaps the incentive for all Christian action: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (I Cor 10:31). How is that the glory of God supplies motivation, gives the impetus for getting up and doing something? More fundamentally, what do we mean by the phrase, “God’s glory?”
The Hebrew word for glory, kavod, connotes heaviness, solidity, weight – as in “a very weighty opinion.” It refers to something that has heft and substance, the opposite of flighty or superficial. “Glory” points to the core and essence of God, the Deity’s own substance. And as both the Jewish and Christian tradition testify, that core is loving goodness: God is Love; God is Good.
The glory of God refers to these God-like “weighty” qualities, but as they show up in earthly life. In nature, it could be the searing contrast of white and dark on a snow-covered hill. More to our point is its appearance in human life – God’s own traits revealed through the attitudes and behaviors of people, not just in their words but more so in their actions. To glorify God, a person would put the flesh of this world onto God’s essence, would literally “embody” something of God’s character.
Isn’t that exactly what Jesus does all his life, “incarnate” who God is? To the question, “what is Divinity like?” the Christian answers, “Fix your eyes on this Jesus. See the way he lives, his instincts and points of view, his leanings and reflex actions — and pay special attention to his underlying mission.” He is the Glory of God walking through our world, the Word made Flesh, God’s own loving gaze locked in on us.
When Paul calls us to do everything for the glory of God, he’s telling us to do (and be) whatever it takes to disclose God’s qualities through our humanity. “By the way you live,” Paul coaches us, “radiate something of God’s character into your everyday surroundings.”
Isn’t this what the saints do? There’s St. Catherine Drexel who brought the light of education to people left in the dark. And St. John Neuman who showed such love and care for all those unprotected immigrants just landing on our shores. Vincent de Paul, of course, who exuded God’s concern for the poor and neglected. In our own day, the Salvadoran martyr St. Oscar Romero who paid with his life for speaking truth to power on behalf of the downtrodden in his land.
To do like things is to show God’s glory, give praise to God. God is glorified when we let the weight and holiness of God’s presence become more evident in the here and now. God is glorified when we translate these divine qualities into the stuff, the flesh and blood, of the everyday.
One of our country’s hallowed hymns proclaims, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of The Lord.” When looking around, I see flash points of God’s love and truthfulness, breakouts of God’s generosity and faithfulness, and glints of God’s light — for instance in the soothing melodies of a symphony, in the subtle rhythms of a poem, or in the striking contrast of a cloud against a blue sky. But especially in the flesh of human experience, do I encounter God’s presence when:
– I see forgiveness happening,
– I notice parents sacrificing for their children,
– I hear truth being spoken courageously,
– I come across instances of enduring patience and
– I witness long term faithfulness.
These are all instances of people “glorifying God,” allowing aspects of God’s own Self show to up in this world.
We go back to our motivational speaker, Paul of Tarsus. “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” May our motives be grounded in this project, Jesus’ project, to let God’s goodness and faithfulness and truth shine out in creation and in everyday life.